Istvan Szab”s personal history of modern Hungary spans 150 years and has Ralph Fiennes incarnate three generations of the Sonnenschein family-a characteristically dense, ambitious film from the maker of Mephisto and Colonel Redl. Jewish peasant stock who make their fortune with a family recipe for herbal tonic, the Sonnenscheins achieve respectability in the early twentieth century with the meteoric career of Ignatz (Fiennes), a lawyer and judge who changes his surname to Sors (‘Destiny’) and pledges allegiance to the Hapsburg Empire.
Adam (Fiennes) inherits his father’s zeal for assimilation, converts to Catholicism, and wins a gold medal in fencing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics; in the film’s most powerful scene, he’s stripped, beaten and murdered in a Nazi labour camp, still protesting his credentials as a national hero. Consumed
by his father’s death, Ivan (Fiennes again) becomes a scourge of the Fascists in postwar Communist Hungary, but is forced to re-evaluate as the regime falls back on the same totalitarian instincts that have plagued the country through the century.
As even this highly simplified gloss suggests, Szab- has an awful lot to cram into the three hours he’s allowed himself too the saga justice. That the Sors men are inveterate ladykillers thickens the stew, entailing romantic complications with Jennifer Ehle, Rachel Weisz, Deborah Kara Unger and Molly Parker. Szab-‘s film is a little dry, conservative and (understandably) humorless. Yet it’s an absorbing, weighty picture which worries at still important ideas about duty and inheritance, and at how we may define ourselves against the tide of history.
Filmed in English.
Dolby digital stereo.